Sunday, January 26, 2014

Hungry Art

As a working artist, teaching and making art, it is true that many times one must make a choice as to what is most important. We all work at balancing our lives, family, health, studio work, (not necessarily in that order) but they all can compete. Even so, It seems to me that no matter what's going on when my studio work beckons I will drop everything and come running.

When projects stretch out due to engineering complications (or other reasons) the hardest part can be holding my interest so that I solve the problem well and can keep going with as much energy and excitement as when I started. All artists face these issues. I also find that it's one of the biggest issues with art students- how to keep going when it gets tough, or boring, or you run out of money, etc. I find it funny that they think they are the only ones to suffer from this and they are often times surprised when they hear I go through the same issues and do my fair share of struggling, and on a regular basis too.

I am not sure what my point here is except that to the casual viewer, this new series I am working on may seem long and drawn out, but really it's just a blip in the bigger picture. To really be an artist one must work at it all the time, give everything and let the art devour you. The smallest ideas become giant and worth every second you spend on them.

OK. So now onto what I am working on.

The pictures I showed in my previous post showed the sculptures complete in form and put together. However, they were not secure and I want them to be very secure. In fact I want the pieces to be so sound that I can turn them as whole sculptures in any direction and not have shifting or something falling off. This is hard to do, and my years of being a furniture builder have made my conception of this hard. Traditional furniture construction has rules, and that is not how I work. I compose my work. As I build I change it, shift the parts around or make new ones until I get what I like. I am not a planner (unless it's a commission) and want, no, need the option to be flexible in my building. So, my pieces are often times made of parts that are interchangeable and that means they move easily. In theory. In reality some have to be bludgeoned on and off while other parts slide too easy. To the naked eye all the joints look nice and tight, but if you work with wood/plywood you know it doesn't take much, even the humidity will make a joint impossibly annoying to work with. But beside all that at some point, when my symphony is constructed I have to secure the parts. What you don't see here are pictures of the weeks of torture spent trying to figure how to do this and then finally executing it. Ironically, I ended up using the same process as used in furniture; pining with dowel rods. in some cases it was extreme, construction or wood glue in the joint and then 1/2" or 3/8" rods that went very deep and at extreme angles. A good drill and new super sharp bits, one of them 12" long made all the difference. Each sculpture still retains one larger joint that will remain unfixed, as I need to break them down somewhat to get them through doorways and for shipping. Amazingly enough it all worked great, I can turn them in all directions and they are super strong and sound.

Right now I am working on finishing and that always takes forever. The color is super important to me and this time I am taking a new route to a more subtle conversation between the colors, planes, and volumes. Really it all came from me observing that in my studio, with halogen, incandescent and florescent lighting, that the white painted sculptures changed color from side to side depending where the lighting was in the room. This is not my first time doing this, but it is the first larger scale work. The color is not meant to be in your face, but more of a hint, one that keeps the viewer looking and guessing. I have tried to show some images here and you can see it a bit, of course it has more impact in person.
You can see the warmer white on the left faces and the cooler white on others.
One of the pieces with tags so I don't loose track of what color goes where.

As you can imagine this part of the process takes a lot of time. In the meanwhile I have started the next sculpture out in my freezing cold shop. Of course I want the next ones bigger, and now that I am much more proficient in fabricating them that should not be an issue. I am also adding voids. Holy cow! This is much more exciting that I thought it would be. Scary too, as I have no idea what I am going to do with them.


Hopefully the temperatures will be on the rise soon, (this has been the coldest weather in all 15 years of living here) so I can be out in my shop working on a more regular basis. It's OK to bring stuff to my house studio for painting and sanding, but the big power tools live outside in my (unheated) shop.

Monday, January 6, 2014

A New Year or Holy Shit it's 2014 Already

"Gosh where has the time gone?" I am clearly not the only one asking this question. I am behind in updating this blog, but I have my reasons, all of them good.

Right now I am getting ready for classes next week and catching up on correspondence. It's freaking cold here, not usual for Mississippi to stay below freezing for the whole day.

I was in the Netherlands for 16 days over the holidays, it was a wonderful time, as it was last year. I am still getting over travel hangover.

Some of the good things...

Homes for Everyone is going to the Portsmouth Art & Cultural Center in Virginia for 2014.

The six Garden Boats, not going into the Mississippi Museum of Art permanent collection, are going to the Kemp Center for the Arts, in Wichita Falls, TX for 2104.

I made good progress on my cloud series pieces, but honestly the studio is too cold right now for my hands to work so I'll take a short break. These are so far, finished in many coats of sanded gesso. It's taking a long time and I clearly have made no decisions on the final colors, if any.

I also got a new webpage up and running. is still the same name and address as the old one just a new website host and updated design.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Almost There, But Not Quite

I have made progress. It's been over a month and I am sad (sort of) they are not finished. However, they represent a whole new body of work and for me the language is exciting and new, I want to learn it thoroughly as I progress into these new works.

I won't bore you with all the small problems, both physical and design related, that have manifested (and are expected), but suffice to say as one problem is solved it often reveals another to deal with. A thick lamination made to solve a scale problem means a physical weight shift that requires another solution. Solving these types of engineering problems are fun but weigh on me after a while. The brain can get tired easily. I have learned how to use Sketch Up and this program can be very handy. Rendering parts on my computer and trying out different solutions virtually has helped me not to waste plywood when working. It's very good for figuring out color too. Drawing is still a constant though and a very immediate tool that I still use, always.

Yesterday I had one of those BAM! moments, and the fun times ensued. The work flowed, the solutions flowed, the whole session was productive.

So, as of this point, I have my forms, I have several laminations to complete, some connections to make, sanding and patching, more sanding, and then gluing and pining pieces together. A few weeks of work for sure.

Some pieces will be glued in place and others will be pinned so they can be attached when installing the work. These works will remain largely intact though. As far as color, right now I have no idea, I have a gallon of good sandable gesso and that will be the start.

Monday, October 7, 2013

In Progress, Forever.

The hollow forms are progressing well. These new works are labor intensive and there is lots of problem solving to do. As I workout one solution others present themselves and I realize I could be working on this series for a long time. I have to work hard to keep my mind on one theme and not wondering off on all the possibilities for new pieces. I do some sketches, take some photos, whatever so that I don't forget all the exciting options I am being presented with.

The last work I showed progressed to this-

But I knew it wasn't finished, still felt it was lacking something. So I made some dummy parts that progressed to final glue ups (solid laminations)-

And now I feel satisfied I have the right form-

I have started on the next forms, which are of course even bigger-

I am getting better at making them and faster too, although I did learn that our local hardware store, Economy Supply, sells bendy plywood! Amazing! So much easier and cleaner than making all those kerf cuts in that crappy and cheaply made luan-
Next I have to start working on finishes. I know what I want I just to have to experiment and find where to get the right stuff. Finishing will, no doubt, be a big adventure in itself.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Hollow Forms

Worked all summer on the daily composition series. Soon enough they became multi-day compositions as I inevitably began to do more designing and started to enlarge the parts. Enlarging required laminating multiple pieces of plywood and that takes extra work. My goal was still to maintain a freshness that came along with not really knowing where they were going until I got there. If your a creative maker you'll know what I mean.

I made a lot of them, a lot. Then I went even bigger, I needed to really push where I could go with the line weights of the edges and the relative volume of the forms. Juxtaposing thin and thick forms is really starting to add some excitement to the pieces. It also means more planning with the construction, but I love the engineering part; problem solving is the best part. The solutions are even better. I also did a curved plywood shape. Love it! Will do more soon but I have some additional construction design to master.
Rim Fire, 52" tall, 2013, wood. Currently at the USM faculty show at Oddfellows Gallery in downtown Hattiesburg, until the closing of the Fall Art Walk on October, 16.

Cloud Atlas, 28" tall, wood, 2013, will be at the Train Depot Show, starting on the Fall Art Walk, in downtown Hattiesburg, October 16.
Just a few days ago I started to work out the fabrication process for hollow forms. I really want to go bigger. Although the last two works are made to come apart as a whole I am reaching the limits of what some of the smaller scale materials will handle without permanent attachments. I can't ship big pieces like this, not without winning the lottery, so they need to be modular. Waste also comes into play; a quadruple thick lamination of 3/4" thick plywood is not only wasteful but also heavy and expensive!

Hollow forms have a huge advantage, once I master the making part. So far they are coming out well. The first one, a true prototype, went together pretty fast and skinned really well. The second one is much better as I leaned a lot about what will make gluing the skin on faster and easier. They do go together pretty well, but perfecting the engineering for that part will have to wait until I have more shapes to work with.
The shapes must be perfect copies of each other.

I winged it with the glue blocks, not knowing what I really needed. Turns out I needed blocks in strategic places for the air nailer and clamps to work well.

How to make bendy plywood.

Skin fits well.

Second one has much better glue blocks shaped to fit the corners. Still have to skin this one.

Two pieces slotting together. They fit very tight, maybe too much.

Now to make some additional shapes, I need to master the technique so that I can make them fast and make many. I also need to work out thick to thin shapes. These are about 4" thick, I want to go much fatter.

More images soon!

Thursday, May 30, 2013


Construction of my daily compositions, as a friend calls them, has slowed down a bit, as expected. For two reasons; our summer semester started, and I had to slow down as I needed to start doing more composing of the forms.

The first group of works were kind of like 3d gesture drawings, I jumped in not knowing or really planing where I was going. As forms, commonalities, and relationships began to develop I knew I wanted to slow down and make deliberate decisions about where to go next. The hard part is not losing the freshness and spontaneity apparent in the first works. So far so good. I started adding larger laminated sections and fabricated parts that required clear decisions and planning in the construction phase. I like how things are going, and they are getting bigger and stronger. I also decided it was time to start experimenting with finishes. Hand painting was not going to work, too may inaccessible spaces for a brush and many of the works will not come apart to paint individual pieces. So I tried spray paint and although it requires great patience the results have been very pleasing, and I am getting the bold saturated colors that I want. I have an excellent spray system, but right now I am using too small a quantity of paint in any one color to justify the expense of the paint itself, and there are so many excellent spray paint choices.

Right now I will be doing more of my daily compositions in clay, mainly because my intense summer teaching scheduled will keep me in the USM studio pretty much 40 hrs a week straight for the month of June. I will have several hours a day to work side by side with some of my upper level ceramics students and so far it has been rewarding, and they seem to be getting a lot out of seeing me work too.

I'll still work on the wood ones, but at a slower pace and probably on weekends. My goal with the clay and the wood is to get bigger.

Friday, May 10, 2013

My Daily Compositions

This rainy stormy day makes a perfect opportunity to get some writing done. The semester is finished and I have a short break before I have to get right back into it with a double header June semester; two studio classes, back to back will make for an exciting and probably manic start to the summer.

A tornado, a new chair search at work, and a number of other events have conspired to make this a hard semester to get into my studio. To some extent, after being extremely productive last year it seemed pretty natural to slow it down a bit but I was finding that as the spring wore on I was getting meaner and unhappier the longer I stayed away. I had sculptures in national shows in Wyoming and Louisiana in the early part of the year and found I was needing to go a different way with some new work, but which way?

By the time February came around I was jonesing for a fresh start but knew that with my university commitments I couldn't and didn't want to get deep into something large in scale. I wanted to work in my home studio; I knew the time alone would be very important. That on it's own proved be a huge project; with a major squirrel infestation last year it was a giant project to get the space back in order, never mind replacing all the insulation and cleaning out all the nesting material that covered nearly every surface of the shop. I also needed some new tools and had to repair another to get everything in place to get going.
A new Shopfox belt/disc sander, the "big" purchase of the year. Love it!

A router table for my router

New tires for my bandsaw
So I came up with my sculpture-a-day project. I am well into week two with a series of small works that I am doing out of MDF. It's going really well. Some very good ideas and forms are evolving. A few are less interesting to me, but I see them as exercises. For example the last one I did was all rectilinear forms all at 90 degrees to each other. Less exciting than some others but the idea of an exercise is to force yourself into getting it done and then realizing later the unexpected connections and relationships that have occurred within the piece. I may have to skip a day coming soon, but that is not so important anymore as now I have some really good ideas and am starting to build some that are bit more complicated in their construction. It's only natural to progress to more involved works where I am making more and more specific decisions about forms, relationships and construction techniques.

When I showed these to an artist friend of mine she called them, "my daily compositions", I like that idea.

When my mom viewed them she saw puppies, so I guess they have become part of my pack, my constant companions, like my dogs, that sit on the floor of my shop waiting for another to join the ranks.